Some people can't take "no" for an answer. The Clinton administration has lost at every turn in its efforts to allow statistical sampling in the 2000 census, yet it continues to forge stubbornly ahead as if it were a law unto itself.

Instead, the executive branch ought to turn its attention toward finding ways to make the 2000 head count as accurate as possible. Time is running out.Two federal courts, one in Virginia and one in the District of Columbia, have ruled the Constitution means what it says when it calls for an actual enumeration of the population every 10 years. The administration appealed one of those decisions to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, according to the New York Times, the White House is toying with ways to twist logic so that it can forge ahead with what it really wants - to use sampling only to redistrict Congress, a plan sure to increase the number of Democratic districts.

The public shouldn't stand for this. As far as politicians are concerned, redistricting is the most important part of the decennial census. It can determine the balance of power in Congress and, subsequently, decide the course of the nation. For obvious reasons, the process must be fair and free from political machinations.

As this page has said before, statistical sampling is scientific and highly reliable under normal conditions. Done correctly, its accuracy can be measured to within a range of a few percentage points. But politics tends to rob fairness, and if the political process enters the census, opportunities for abuse arise.

If the administration pursues its plan, it would argue that the courts have rejected sampling only as it pertains to deciding how many seats each state gets in Congress. That would leave the possibility of using sampling to actually draw the boundaries of congressional districts. The result would be two census counts - one based on an actual head count and the other on the administration's version of sampling.

Chances are, neither would be accurate.

Congress should stand firm. If the Clinton administration loses its court appeal, the census must be done as it has been since 1790. "No" still means no.